Apple labor controversies typically involve its subcontractors’ factories in Asia where I tend to sympathize with the view that in context the factories are generally a force for good. But the conduct alleged in this class action lawsuit filed on July 25 seems completely indefensible. The basic issue is this. Apple agrees to pay Apple Store employees an hourly wage. That’s how you run a store. Apple also makes Apple Store employees undergo time-consuming search procedures to make sure they’re not stealing stuff from the store. That’s annoying, but you can understand how it happens. The highest-end unsubsidized iPhone retails for $849 and easily fits into your pocket. But the allegation is that Apple would treat the search time as time “off the clock” and uncompensated even though spending the time doing it was a formal condition of employment.
This is the paragraph where I say I’m not a lawyer and for all I know Apple’s just found some clever loophole here.
But one way or another, it’s indefensible. And that’s particularly true because of Apple’s larger corporate and financial structure. It obtains extremely high gross margins on the stuff it sells, and it’s not even coming close to using all that money to fuel new investments and expansion. Recently they’ve started taking some of their enormous surplus and kicking it out to shareholders as dividends and repurchases, which is a bit lame. But the bulk of Apple’s profits are absolutely idle. And it’s pretty clear that financial markets drastically discount the value of Apple’s hoarded cash on the perfectly reasonable grounds that the company seems to have no idea what to do with tens of billions of extra dollars. Tim Cook could stop shortchanging these Apple Store guys and leave nobody at all worse off.